As Howard French points out in A Continent for the Taking, reportage from his time as West Africa bureau chief for the New York Times, the sanctity of borders has been pretty well accepted in Africa. For decades, Africans have agreed to be bound by political lines, however inauthentic or troublesome. New African countries (Eritrea, for example) are often pried from thousands of cold, dead hands.
Which is why it’s been so marvelous to see pencils being prepared in south Sudan—which may be, after a referendum on sovereignty this Sunday, the world’s newest country.
South Sudan is likely to be desperately poor, heavily in debt, and subject to a raw deal on ownership of its precious oil reserves. But if the round-the-clock reporting from the region holds any truth, there is still a great deal of hope—and a nationalism I hadn’t expected. I am still on the west coast, but over Al Jazeera, one longtime refugee summarized:
“We have been living on the run, with no homes no water. We want to return to our country…. Even if you don’t have a good job, you have your homeland!”
Here in Ghana, the birthplace of a fierce nationalism that has waned only slightly in the years since Kwame Nkrumah led the nation, I am surprised to see that the idea of country lingers at all. The fluid west African economy—consolidated as ECOWAS in 1975—comprises Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ivoiriens, Liberians, Senegalese and more, now including of course, those from farther afield, from Beirut and Guangzhou. Tema, the port city outside Accra, transports cloth and cocoa and engines, palm oil for cooking and (as of this week) crude oil for the expanding regional economy.
And while Nigerians and Ghanaians joke about simply annexing Benin and Togo, respectively, the reality is that regional African trade and cultural production are significant advantages to individual national growth. (The lack of emphasis on intra-African economic potential is one of the big failings of Dambisa Moyo’s argument against aid.) What’s more, I believe these business ties are much more organic and instructive for partnership than the drawing of lines to govern resources.
This gets at the merits of referring to “Africa-the-country” (on which more later).
But here, respect is due to the process that has led Sudan the way of pencils rather than guns.
- thebrightcontinent posted this